A New Playoff Format Designed to Benefit the Top Overall Seed (and Top Wild Card team) in Each League

If you didn't notice, the top overall seed in each league, 2 of MLB's 3 teams to reach the 100-win mark this season, were eliminated from the playoffs in relatively short fashion. While the Red Sox fan in me is loving every second of this postseason, the objective baseball fan in me believes the top overall seed in both the American League and the National League should be rewarded (beyond merely home field advantage) for that accomplishment. And while I have no sympathy for the Dodgers, it does feel unfitting that a team could win more games than 28 out of 29 other teams, then immediately be subjected to an elimination game upon entering the postseason, all while a division winner with 20 less victories sits back and waits for the next round to begin.

With the current CBA about to expire, it might interest both the players and the owner$ (see what I did there?) to consider another new playoff format. Personally, I think adding too many teams to the playoff field waters down the competition. Plus, it renders the regular season meaningless if half the league ends up in the postseason; just look at the NBA. (Related tangent: the entire 2020 season was a complete joke, but the playoffs were especially awful. When a team with a sub-.500 win percentage makes it all the way to the ALCS, something has gone wrong.) So when I started pondering ways to restructure the playoff format, I set a hard limit of 6 teams per league, one more than the current structure. I also wanted to give the top overall seed - and only the top overall seed - in each league a bye to create incentive for division winners to compete all the way through the end of the regular season. Another goal of mine was to distinguish the top Wild Card team from the others, since it's not uncommon for the top Wild Card team to have the second or third most wins in their respective league. I also love the element of an elimination game to kickoff the postseason; the Wild Card games have been exciting to watch every year, and they set the tone for October baseball. Finally, while I was determined to give the top overall seed in each league a bye round, I tried to avoid leaving them waiting too long. With all that being said, the following proposed format fits the aforementioned criteria, and adds an extra 12 games (6 per league) before the Divisional Series.

First Round: Elimination Game between the second and third Wild Card teams

With 6 teams in each league making the postseason - 3 division winners and 3 Wild Card teams - the festivities get kicked off by pinning the bottom two Wild Card teams against each other. Just like the current Wild Card game, it's an elimination game. The team with the better record, the second Wild Card team, would host the game. The winner advances to the next round. The loser's season is over.

Second Round: Round Robin Single Game Matchups (Bye Round for the Top Seed)

Once the winner of the elimination game moves on, that team will face the top Wild Card team, as well as the lower two of the three divisional winners, for one game each. Those three teams will also play each other once, so that all four teams have faced one another, for a total of 6 games per league. The team with the higher record will host each game. At the end of those 6 games, three teams per league advance to the Divisional Round, with the lowest of the 4 teams in each league being eliminated. A tiebreaker between 2 teams will be determined by their head-to-head matchup. If there is a 3-way tie, then total run differential over the course of the round will serve as the tiebreaker.

Third Round: Divisional Series

From here, it should appear pretty familiar. With 3 teams in each league advancing to this round, and the top overall seeds waiting, we have the 8 teams needed to move forward in the traditional format. Four Best-of-5 series with each winner advancing to the pennant. The one new caveat would be each league's top overall seed getting to choose its opponent from the 3 remaining teams.

Final Thoughts

The Championship Series and World Series don't need any adjustments. Although Game 3 against the Rays left me thinking that the new extra inning rule (each inning after the 9th starts with a runner on second base) should probably carry over into the postseason. Between how long the game took (in terms of hours and minutes) and the aggressive usage of both bench and bullpen by each team, those marathon games are a nightmare for managers, detrimental to player health, and they probably don't help viewership, if I had to take a guess.

Maybe I'm partial because it's an original idea by yours truly, but I think this proposal has many advantages. It expands the field by only 2 teams, capping it at 40% of the league, which is plenty. The introductory elimination games stay without subjecting the top Wild Card teams (who might have outperformed some division winners) to those circumstances. The top overall seeds get rewarded for finishing ahead of everyone else at the end of the regular season, and since some of the round robin games can overlap, the bye should only last for about a week, which feels like an appropriate amount of time. Plus, every year the Divisional Series will feature one rematch from the previous round in each league, allowing fans and analysts to revisit that recent meaningful game as a preview.

I seriously doubt this will grab the commissioner's attention, but I had some spare time today, and it was a fun exercise. Feel free to leave your thoughts or feedback in the Comments section.